Mercer Bike Trail Expansion Spring 2023 Update
We have worked with the engineering firm Becher-Hoppe and the Northwest Planning Commission to help us collect and organize information to submit a TAP (Transportation Alternatives Program) grant to the Department of Transportation. If received, this grant will fund 80% of the cost of an engineering feasibility and planning study to expand the current paved bike trail from Carow Park in the town of Mercer along County Road J to County Road W. This would add an additional 9 miles of bike trail to the current 52 miles of paved bike trails that currently exist in Vilas and Iron counties. The current trail system, called “Heart of Vilas”, offers riders more than 52 miles of paved trails that connects St. Germain, Sayner, Boulder Junction, Manitowish Waters, and Mercer. It has recently been designated a National Recreational trail. This proposed new trail section would extend the current trail and create a 22-mile loop between the towns of Mercer, Winchester, and Manitowish Waters. The planning study (approximate cost of $125,000) would provide trail options along Highway J in consideration of private property, state forest property, wetlands and environmental concerns, and aesthetics to make the trail both functional and interesting in the style of the current Heart of Vilas trails. The trail expansion would run primarily through Northern Highlands State Forest and two state natural areas.
The town of Mercer brought the first paved bike trail to the town in 2011 when it expanded the Heart of Vilas trail system by adding 7.8 miles of trail from Manitowish Waters to Mercer. The town recently expanded the trail further through Mercer to Carow Park in 2021, allowing bikers to safely travel to the downtown businesses, school, and library. This trail expansion was completed in late fall 2021 with widening and repaving of Lakeshore Drive/Library Street. The trail expansion connects to the Mercer School and downtown businesses and residence. Pedestrian and bicycle striping and stenciling is under contract for completion in 2023. The proposed bike trail expansion is the next highest priority recreational opportunity identified in the Iron County Strategic Outdoor Recreation Plan 2021-2025. To guide this plan, an online survey was conducted in February of 2021. Survey respondents were asked to identify recreational opportunities which the county should explore for future development. The most cited opportunity identified was for the development of new bike and walking trails. This data was used as support for the TAP grant narrative.Although there is a lot of support in Mercer for expanding bike trails, there are still many detractors who have vocalized their disapproval of this plan at several town meetings. The “Town Ordinance of Support”, which was needed for the TAP grant application, passed only narrowly by the town supervisors.
If we are awarded this TAP grant, we would likely know by June of 2023. We would then have to bid out the project work and hopefully complete that work in 2023. Receiving this grant is also our signal that our project is viable and able to attract grant monies. ICORE will need to expand the current bike committee from a visioning and exploration group to one that will manage a large capital campaign, secure construction grants, engage the public to gain support, and oversee complicated, multi-year project. If you are interested in helping, please contact Brenda Nelson (email@example.com).